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Government to tackle violence towards health staff

Matt Hancock takes on ‘personal mission’ to act against NHS attacks as figures reach five-year high

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

The NHS is to get its first ever violence reduction strategy that will mean a zero-tolerance approach to violence against people working in the NHS, Matt Hancock has announced. The health and social care secretary told delegates at a Royal College of Nursing (RCN) summit this morning that it is his “personal mission” to empower staff and give them confidence to report violence, with meaningful action from trusts and a consistent prosecution approach from the judicial system.

The RCN, which has long campaigned to raise awareness of the threat of violence faced by nurses and other NHS staff, welcomed his announcement of the violence reduction strategy – and in particular the reintroduction of national reporting of assaults on NHS staff, which ceased with the abolition in April 2017 of NHS Protect. It said data on the number of assaults are vital to measure the actual level of threat that nursing staff face and to identify trends of when and in what settings assaults take place, which informs and enables implementation of appropriate prevention measures.

It has been widely reported today, including by The Guardian and itv News, that more than one in seven health professionals were attacked in the course of their work last year – the highest level of violence against NHS staff for five years.

Chair of the BMA’s (British Medical Association) junior doctors committee Dr Jeeves Wijesuriya said: “The BMA has long been concerned about the risk and impact of violence on NHS staff and is particularly concerned by the rising numbers of attacks taking place against frontline staff. In an NHS environment where workloads and waiting times are rising, and staff are already under greater pressure, leading to the risk that unwell patients or their loved ones can become more frustrated, however, it is not acceptable to choose to take that frustration out on those who are trying to help. The latest figures reveal that the total number of assaults on NHS staff in the year to the 31st March 2016 was 70,555 up from 59,744 in 2011/12.

“We believe that tougher sentences for attacks on emergency service workers will make a real difference in reducing the number of serious incidents that staff are subjected to and we support the violence reduction strategy, which sends out a strong deterrent message to those who wilfully assault NHS staff.”

Matt Hancock told the RCN that under the new strategy, a new partnership between the NHS, Police and Crown Prosecution Service will mean that offenders will be prosecuted quickly; care inspectors will scrutinise the quality of NHS trusts’ plans to reduce violence against staff; staff will receive better training on handling violent situations, including challenging circumstances involving patients with dementia or mental health problems; and staff will more easily be able to record assaults that occur. He said in his speech: “I have made it my personal mission to ensure NHS staff feel safe and secure at work and the new violence reduction strategy will be a key strand of that.”

The RCN is today publishing an interim report on violence and aggression in the NHS, which estimates the size and impact of the problem based on existing data; it said this will be followed, in a few months, by a final report and guidance for RCN health and safety reps.

RCN national officer Kim Sunley said: “Nursing staff understand their roles aren’t risk-free but, to many, it still seems as if the threat of physical violence is a daily reality.

“These measures are another way to change this for good by increasing the accountability of employers for the safety of their staff and ensuring those who wilfully assault health care workers feel the full force of the law.

“Victims of assault at work have their lives turned upside down and it affects their wellbeing, their families and their livelihood. There’s always more we can do to support them.”

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